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Apr 8, 2017 Written by  Rev. Fr. Paulino Twesigye Mondo

Passion (Palm) Sunday Year A Be the first to comment!

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Theme: Through the Cross, we have been saved

Consider the Cross. Had you been pressed into suggesting a symbol of the salvation proposed for all of humankind through the death and rising of Jesus, would you have put the Cross on the short list? Perhaps a dove flying upward in a blue sky, perhaps hands wide open to embrace, perhaps an artillery ready to shot,  but a Cross !!!??    No way. Every year during this sacred week, the Church invites us to consider once again, the meaning of the Cross. With each passing year we are invited to bring to consideration, understanding and acceptance the mystery of the Cross. Found in both pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures where it has a cosmic and natural significance, the two crossed lines of unequal length symbolize the four dimensions of the universe. In both primitive and advanced civilizations and in places as widespread as India and Peru, the cross was regarded as a sign of power, and regeneration. These natural, cosmic significations of the cross are not abrogated but rather deepened and purified by the development of Christian symbolism.

Until the 4th century A.D, the early Christians avoided representing the Cross with the body of Jesus; in fact even bare crosses were rarely depicted. There were many reasons for the Church’s reluctance to openly represent the cross as its symbol. For many Jews and gentiles, the Cross underscored the seemingly irreconcilable contradiction of Christian belief, that a crucified man could also be God. As various early heresies attacked the divinity and humanity of Christ, the symbol of the cross, which seemed to worsen the conflict, was avoided. Ironically, the oldest known representation of the crucified Christ is a graffiti which a pagan artist scratched on one of the Roman Palatine buildings: this blasphemous 2nd Century A.D. cartoon depicted a man with an ass’s head on a cross, while another man stands in adoration. The caption, “Alexamenos worships his god”, is still legible. Not until the 4th Century during the reign of Constantine did the cross begin to appear everywhere in public places as the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity. Despite the frequency of its representation in Christian art and architecture, the Cross remains an ambivalent symbol. In its crossbeams meant death and life, sin and salvation, conquest and victory, immanence and transcendence. The cross represents both the basest aspects of the human condition and the most sublime reflection of divinity. In my view the cross of our Lord is the revelation of what sin really is. The cross of Christ mercilessly reveals what the world hides from itself, as it were; sin devours the Son of God in its insane blindness. A sin which God hates is truly set on fire upon contact with the love of God. As we consider the Cross, we see the truth, of who we are; a humanity that would perish if Christ had not come to redeem us. That is why we need to be grateful that: 1) God sent his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life John 3:16. 2). He showed his love for us, while we were still sinners Christ died for us Romans 5:8. 3). He was lifted up so as to draw all people to himself John 12:32. To accept Jesus’ challenge we need to take up our cross daily and follow him see Luke 9:23

First reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

Prophet Isaiah puts four suffering servant songs (Isaiah 40:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12), each of which portrayed the contrast of Israel’s messianic expectations. Most anticipated the reign of their long-awaited messiah as a time of regal, militaristic power, which would re-establish and enforce the political and economic stability of Israel. But the prophet described as a servant, mandated and equipped for his mission by God’s own Spirit would instead use non violent means to fulfill his universal mission. Open to God’s word and will, the servant renewed his resolve daily and by his shocking suffering for the sake of his people, he would be light for the nations bringing justice, peace and healing to the broken. At the time the servant songs first appeared 6th Century BC, during the Babylonian exile, prophet Isaiah intended them as a source of strength and consolation for the displaced Israelites.

If Israel identified itself with the servant figure, perhaps they could make some sense of their suffering and humiliation, accepting it as part of the divine plan for the deliverance and salvation of all peoples. Isaiah understood his own prophetic mission and the sufferings inherent in speaking an unpopular message to an unwilling audience, as fulfilling God’s role. After his passion, death and resurrection, the early Christians associated the suffering figure of the Isaiah songs with Jesus. Finding scriptural support for the undeniable humiliation of Jesus’ suffering and death helped the early Church to understand the mystery of his Cross as a part of God’s loving plan to save humanity from itself, its sin and the consequences that come with sin.

Second reading: Philippians 2:6-11

Paul never wrote a gospel but obviously, he knew the gospel and preached the good news effectively. Many of the earliest foundations of the Church owe their origins to his evangelization. When Paul wrote, he chose to spend his literary energies in helping his audience to live their lives in accord with the gospel they had heard and accepted in faith. In this reading from the letter to Philippians, Paul drew his audience attention to the saving reality of Jesus’ Cross and to the implications which it should have in their lives. Much of what we have read today is a hymn in which the early Christians celebrated the death and exaltation of Jesus. Paul adapted the hymn by adding the phrases “death on a cross” which is verse 8, “in heaven, on earth and under the earth” verse 10 as well as the concluding doxology. Paul’s addition of ‘death on a cross’ is a reflection of the apostle’s own life orientation. Paul looks at the death of Christ in soteriological terms because he thinks of it in terms of its benefit for the believer. Yet Paul’s primary reason for quoting this exultant hymn would be missed if we do not take serious notice of the phrase with which he introduces the hymn into his letter: ‘Your attitude must be Christ’s’ Jesus’ saving death on the cross is not simply to be an annual cause for reflection but the subject of a rousing action. This reading should act as the standard for the life of each one of us who wants to be a disciple. As Christ lived, so must his disciples; as he exercised his saving word and work so must the Church which professes him. Jesus’ attitude was such that he did not assert the prerogative he had as Son of God, but instead he freely chose to empty himself. Kenosis (or emptying in Greek) implied a purposeful and positive gift of oneself for the sake of others. Paul challenges us to bring into our communal and individual life the attitude of Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14-27:66

The Feast of Passover was a time of great anticipation for the Jews. Emotions ran high as people recalled the history of their ancestors' deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  For weeks leading up to the feast intense preparations were made. The Romans sent extra forces to Jerusalem to deal with potential disturbances and uprisings. It was Jewish belief that the Messiah would come at Passover to deliver his people from oppression. Jesus’ enemies were expecting him to make his appearance in Jerusalem and they were hoping to arrest him before he had the chance to incite the crowds to make him their Messiah and King. As Jesus makes his way towards Jerusalem for what he knows will be his last Passover with his disciples, he stops in the village of Bethany where he is invited to dinner by a well-to-do host named Simon the leper see Mark 14:1-11 and John 12:1-8. Luke tells us that Simon was a Pharisee. In Luke 7:36-50  we are told that Simon did not treat Jesus with the normal courtesy given to guests, such as washing their feet and anointing their head before they reclined at table. 

Why did Simon invite him to dinner and then neglect to give him the customary signs of respect and honor? Simon was very likely a collector of celebrities.  He patronized Jesus because of his popularity with the crowds. When a woman interrupts the meal to anoint Jesus’ feet, she causes a scene and provokes Simon’s company to criticize her action.

Why did this woman approach Jesus and anoint him at the risk of ridicule and abuse by others?  Her action was motivated by one thing, and one thing only, namely, her love for Jesus.  She was oblivious to all around her, except for Jesus.  She also did something which only love can do.  She took the most precious thing she had and spent it all on Jesus.  She did not just pour a few drops of ointment on Jesus. She poured out all the contents! Her love was not calculated but a holy extravagancy. The perfume she anointed Jesus with was a very precious ointment made from a rare plant in faraway India. This ointment was often used for anointing the body at burial.  It was very expensive, almost a year’s wages for an ordinary worker.  In a spirit of gratitude and with intense love, this woman lavishly served the one who showed her the mercy and kindness of God. John's Gospel tells us that this woman was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazurus, close friends of Jesus.  Since Jesus was passing through her neighborhood she lost no time to show him a spontaneous act of love and gratitude.

Why did Simon’s company view this woman’s act as extravagantly wastefulness?  They were greedy. Persons views things according to what is inside the hearts. Jesus remarked that this woman had done a lovely deed.  We can never outmatch God in kindness and generosity.  The greatest proof of his love for us is the willing offer of his only begotten Son who poured out his blood upon the cross for our sins.  Am I ready to pour out my love upon the One who gave himself without reserve for my sake? The answer my friend is deep in your heart.

In this perspective, the passion of Jesus Christ is not only the centerpiece of Lent and Holy Week; but the entire Christian life. Aware of this precious heritage, Matthew presents Jesus as the messiah, foretold in Hebrew scripture, and as the universal savior of all peoples. Also aware of the difficulty which both Jews and gentiles had in accepting Jesus as crucified messiah and Son of God, Matthew supports his gospel proclamation with a series of well-chosen scripture texts in formula citations to enabled us understand that God’s foreordained plan of salvation was guiding every crucial aspect of Jesus life, including his problematic death on the cross and astounding resurrection. For example, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas in Matthew 26:14-26 alluded to Zechariah 11:2 wherein 30 silver pieces was the prescribed amount paid for the rejected shepherd or as damages for a slave or servant’s life.

By associating these citations with Jesus, Matthew presented him as the shepherd/servant betrayed by his own. Jesus profound sorrow in Gethsemane and his prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by” Matthew 26:36-39 echoed Psalm 42:6 and Lamentations 4:21. His conduct during his trial and the abuse he endured in Matthew 27:11-14, 27-31 cast him in the light of the suffering servant of Isaiah 50:4-7, 53:7. The seeming despair of Jesus on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” Matthew 27:46, is more accurately understood if we recall Psalm 22, the prayer of a suffering innocent person. Even the apocalyptic phenomena which accompanied Jesus’ death  in Matthew 27:51-53 are told in such a way as to remind us of the Day of the Lord  in Amos 8:9 and to assure us that it had, indeed, come to pass in Jesus’ dying on the cross. Having provided his audience with the assurance that Jesus’ cross was not a tragic accident but an integral aspect of God’s saving plan, Matthew also alerts Jesus’ disciples to the fact that their lives must be similarly marked by the cross because “no disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master” Matthew 10:24.

Application

My brothers and sisters, Christ died and lived again that He might be Lord both of the dead and living. See Romans. 14:9. As the Son of God, He atoned for your sins, my sins, our sins. He is your King, my King, our King. During this week, let us honour Jesus, our Lord and God through our active participation in each and every Holy Day of the Holy Week that will lead us to the celebration of the glorious Resurrection of Jesus our saviour and Lord on Easter Sunday.

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Welcome to Our Lady of Africa Parish Mbuya. We are located near Bugolobi Township in Nakawa Division. It is about 5 kms from the City Centre of Kampala. Mbuya Catholic Parish is a vibrant and diverse community made up of people from different parts of Uganda. We welcome you warmly and joyfully.

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